Party flower arrangements

‘Special occasions’ occur in everyone’s life sooner or later. It may be a celebration for two people, an engagement, a wedding anniversary or a gathering such as a party or a wedding reception at home.

Some of them may be accompanied by specially composed music, many of them may depend on ceremonial dress and procedure, but almost all of them demand decorations with flowers. Flowers can adapt themselves to any mood and any occasion. They can express the spontaneity of light hearted celebration just as well as the dignity of solemn ritual. This has been demonstrated by the use of wreaths and garlands from the time of the Ancient Greeks, long before flowers came to be arranged in vases.

However, different approaches are necessary when arranging flowers to be seen by a number of people rather than a few, and when decorating a large room rather than a small one. The finished product always looks quite simple and it is only when doing the actual work that one comes across the difficulties. These may not be involved but rather unexpected. The first point to consider is the position of the flowers. You are probably used to having a vase in a certain place in the room or hall, but that particular place may not be suitable now. What might show up well with just your family about will not be seen at all amongst a lot of people. For example a group in a fireplace (which can look most attractive in the summer months) may be less effective in a small room with many people, although if it were to be in the same room but without the people this would not be the case. In effect the maximum impact one needs to have is such an arrangement in a large room with plenty of space.Party flower arrangements

Obviously the best position for flowers is on a piece of furniture or a mantelpiece, or on a wall bracket. This will ensure not only the minimum risk of their being knocked over, but also the maximum opportunity of their being seen. Pedestals are useful, but they must be sturdy and secure and most definitely out of the way. Perhaps a good plan is to go round the house with a note book and pencil, imagining the rooms you are going to use filled with standing people (the occasions when there is a chance to sit down are unfortunately rare) and to notice where an arrangement of flowers would look most effective. After you have made your list, then work out how many containers you will need and of what size and shape.

Even though one may use one or two big arrangements, remember that something small in the right position can be equally effective. Large quantities of material are not a necessity as in some cases just a few flowers of the right colour are better than a large mixed group as long as the vase is in a key position.

The second point is that before beginning a large arrangement which is to stand against a flat background, the vase must always be weighted down in some way. The method does not matter very much, as long as it is successful and does not show. (The smaller weights from the scales are quite good.) If large mesh wire netting is used it should be held firmly in position, either anchored down by string, tied round the sides of the container, (which can be cut away afterwards), or by wire, especially if the container has a rim or convenient handles through which it can be knotted and twisted round. To provide extra security sand can be poured into the bottom of the vase, or a small bottle of lead shot can be hooked inside on to the wire netting. Any small bottle will do, as long as it has a top. Ultimately the best means of weighing down a large container is the water inside.

The third point is the relationship between arrangements and their surroundings. Fitting in with the furnishings is vitally important. This applies particularly if the ‘occasion’ is to be held in a house belonging to a friend or relative.

At one reception where I worked it was almost impossible to arrange the flowers. The walls were covered from floor to ceiling with prints of all shapes and sizes and the furniture, (where one could have reasonably hoped for a clear surface), was also covered by porcelain and books. Unfortunately, the house was being lent, so it was impossible to take down some of the prints or remove any of the porcelain. Oh for a piece of blank wall!

Perhaps the celebration may take place in a very different background. Perhaps your home is a modern flat with contemporary furnishings, plenty of space and no cluttering up. You may use a small arrangement composed of very little material,

well lit, and this you feel fits in perfectly.

My fourth point is the choice of flowers. If you want to be exotic without too much expense, have a collection of garden flowers and add two or three lilies and soft toned carnations, or have a collection of wild flowers and add two or three garden roses : Ophelia is a beauty and blends in well with the simplicity and soft colourings of grasses and hedgerow flowers.

Branches of laburnum, arranged in a tall narrow necked decanter to lend support to the stems, give a wonderful touch of yellow (a particularly clear yellow which is almost unobtainable in any other flower). One is often told that laburnum does not last, and so is not worth bothering about, but my own experience has been to the contrary, I have found it quite reliable if it is cut when still in bud and at a cool time of the day. Of course the woody stems should then be smashed and given a good drink.

Marguerites are a well known standby. Their lasting powers are astonishing: they seem almost to go on for ever. But what a beautiful flower this is, and how we do take it for granted ! Its yellow centres surrounded by the pure white petals seen against a dark green background of foliage, provide a worthwhile lesson in contrast. Being sturdy flowers marguerites can stand up to draught and are suitable for arrangements in the hall or on a landing.

Country flowers can be most attractive. Everyone who knows the West Country has seen masses of pink, red and white valerian growing out of stone walls or cascading down grassy banks. One of the colours is bound to fit in, so use it with your colour scheme. Valerian is slightly deceptive, in that it takes quite a lot of it to fill a vase of any size. But since it usually grows in profusion, this is not a difficulty. I have already extolled the virtues of Queen Anne’s lace and here would like to suggest that it be arranged with the flower of the white dead nettle. This flower is so modestly hidden beneath the rather heavy leaves that until some of these are cut off it is really not visible. Both the nettles and the hedge parsley drink quantities of water, so you should watch the water carefully and make sure it is kept well topped up.

Foxgloves and ferns have such dignity and such beautiful flowing lines that they almost arrange themselves. If the pinky-mauve foxgloves are not suitable for your colour scheme, try the white. Sometimes, later on in the summer, one finds a tall foxglove with four or five smaller flowers much lower down the stem. If these are cut off and used separately they will tuck in nicely towards the centre of the group. And don’t forget to use the leaves.

Branches of pink and white Chilean gum box (Escallonia) give a good effect, curving naturally in an arrangement as they do on the shrub. (E. exoniensis is a good example.) All of the escallonias have charming small flowers and they are ideal for a pedestal vase.

These are only a few ideas for using simple flowers which can be obtained easily. One additional suggestion which I should like to make is for the use of pinks. Their scent is so reminiscent of an English summer garden, and they come in an extensive variety of colours suitable for any colour scheme.

Equipment needed for an ‘occasion’ is very much the same as you would normally use, though perhaps a few extra buckets would not be amiss. This way all your material can have a good drink beforehand. One or two more dust sheets are a good idea.

Having dealt with the more practical aspects, I should now like to give certain bits of information which have interested me and which I hope you will find equally interesting.

Certain flowers have a special significance for certain occasions, and many of these associations are based on customs and legends, some of them hundreds of years old.

The lily is perhaps the flower that comes to mind first in this context of grand occasions; this may be because of its early connections with the Church and its appearance in many of the paintings of the Angel of the Annunciation. The lily pictured is often identical with the Madonna lily of our cottage gardens.

Mock orange ( Phdadelphus) and myrtle are flowers connected with weddings. The custom of wearing orange blossom is thought to have originated in the east with the Saracens, and since the Crusades, European brides have worn wreaths of orange blossom. Certainly, in this century, the sight and scent of P. coronarius immediately suggests a wedding. It is still considered lucky to have a sprig of myrtle in the bride’s bouquet and this may have been derived from Jewish brides who wore myrtle wreaths during the days of the Babylonian captivity. In most Mediterranean countries myrtle is worn at a wedding and it has always been associated by legend with the Goddess of Love.

Roses, carnations, and orchids are flowers also associated with ‘grand occasions’. Roses of any colour seem to give a feeling of celebration and often of sentiment, and carnations and orchids, perhaps because of their long lasting qualities as well as their charm, are especially useful for decorations which may have to be prepared ahead of time and at the critical moment still look fresh and beautiful.

The Victorians and Edwardians certainly used orchids and carnations to a vast extent in bouquets. A large bouquet made for Queen Alexandra was composed entirely of orchids in tones of lilac

and pink with sprays of maidenhair fern tied with lilac satin ribbon. There is a record of this as well as of another one made of red and white Marmion carnations tied with white ribbon for the Empress of Russia.

Roses on their own were used for decoration in 1906 at the Great International Horse Show at Olympia. The Royal Box was decorated with trellis work featuring intertwined pink and red roses. Nearer our time, the bridesmaids at the wedding of the Duke and Duchess of Gloucester carried bouquets of the ‘palest of flesh-pink/creamy roses’.

At the turn of the century the foliage used for ‘grand occasions’ was limited, compared with what one sees today. It was then the hey-day of the potted palm tree for platforms and churches, and large quantities of maidenhair and asparagus ferns for bouquets.

Hardly an occasion went by without its attendant palms and bamboos (these were said to give height, and what is described as ‘backbone’ to the floral decorations.) In British Floral Decoration by Mr.

R.F. Felton, published in 1910, there is a photograph of the church decorations for a wedding at St. Margaret’s, Westminster. The flowers are arranged to look as though they were growing out of palm and bamboo groves and interspersed with fronds of fern. One can well imagine the overall effect must have been in great contrast to a more present day arrangement which Mrs. Constance Spry executed in the same church many years later, then the whole decoration was composed of Queen Anne’s lace. Today lilies, carnations and roses often form the central point of a group composed of country flowers or even vegetable seedheads. Queen Anne’s pace is mixed with arum lilies, to give a lighter touch, and leek flower heads used to make a stately foil for fox-tail lilies (Eremurus); roses, even simple climbers like Chaplins Pink climber rise beautifully to ‘grand occasions’.

At last our appreciation of more humble flowers is showing itself, and we are learning to make the most of such material together with an equal regard for various kinds of foliage.

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